January 7, 2018

Crisis: "A Very Stable Genius"*2, Paper Libraries, Neoliberalism, Fuckbook Etc.


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 7, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, January 7, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from January 7, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Trump, Defending His Mental Fitness, Says He’s a ‘Very Stable Genius’
2. Seriously, How Dumb is Trump?
3. Libraries Under Capitalism: The Enclosure of the Literary Commons
4. The Fatal Flaw of Neoliberalism: It’s Bad Economics
5. Take It From the Insiders: Silicon Valley Is Eating Your Soul
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Trump, Defending His Mental Fitness, Says He’s a ‘Very Stable Genius’

This article is by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman on the New York Times. It starts as follows:
President Trump, whose sometimes erratic behavior in office has generated an unprecedented debate about his mental health, declared on Saturday that he was perfectly sane and accused his critics of raising questions to score political points.
I say. Well... I am a psychologist who has been saying for nearly two years now that I agree with a considerable group of psychologists and psychiatrists that Trump is an insane megalomaniac [2], or to put it in psychiatrese terms: A malignant or grandiose narcissist, which is a personality disorder.

And now this madman asserts that he is a "very stable genius". (O Lord!)

Well... there will undoubtedly be considerably more about "the very stable genius" (?!?!) who now is POTUS, but the present article is a beginning.

Here is Trump's own view, to start with:

In a series of Twitter posts that were extraordinary even by the standards of his norm-shattering presidency, Mr. Trump insisted that his opponents and the news media were attacking his capacity because they had failed to prove his campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence,” he wrote on Twitter even as a special counsel continues to investigate the Russia matter.

I'd say: Not without reason, for - to speak only about myself, but in a way most men will recognize - it is not pleasant to live with the constant fear that the madman who now commands the biggest nuclear arsenal there ever was may have started to explode the world in a fit of pique.

Here is more on Trump's insane opinions about Trump:

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” he added. He said he was a “VERY successful businessman” and television star who won the presidency on his first try. “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!”

If you believe that either your IQ is below 75 or else you are the very stable genius Trump.

And there is this on the opinions of others:
The president’s engagement on the issue is likely to fuel the long-simmering argument about his state of mind that has roiled the political and psychiatric worlds and thrust the country into uncharted territory. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation to force the president to submit to psychological evaluation. Mental health professionals have signed a petition calling for his removal from office. Others call armchair diagnoses a dangerous precedent or even a cover for partisan attacks.
I only deal with the last statement in the above quote:

What kind of utter idiot wishes to deny listening to the warnings of people who have studied psychology for many years and say that the president of the USA is mad and may, in his madness, start blowing up most the world with nuclear arms?! And who cares about partisan attacks on the president of the USA?! He is a politician and a partisan himself, indeed whether or not he is sane.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
After the president boasted that his “nuclear button” was bigger than Kim Jong-un’s in North Korea, Richard W. Painter, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, described the claim as proof that Mr. Trump is “psychologically unfit” and should have his powers transferred to Vice President Mike Pence under the Constitution’s 25th Amendment. Mr. Trump’s self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories have generated endless op-ed columns, magazine articles, books, professional panel discussions and cable television speculation.

Yes indeed.

Meanwhile, I have decided I will NOT believe journalists whose educational status I cannot control: I have been reading now nearly two years of baloney by deniers of the arguments of psychologists and psychiatrists while most of them don't know shit about either psychology or psychiatry, or else I cannot find what they do know about it (which is bound to be very little in nearly all cases of those who did not study it).

But I will keep you informed about the follow-up on Trump's declaration that he is "a very stable genius" and about Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury".

In fact the next article does take up some of the themes also treated by Michael Wolff:

2. Seriously, How Dumb is Trump?

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

For more than a year now, I’ve been hearing from people in the inner circles of official Washington – GOP lobbyists, Republican pundits, even a few Republican members of Congress – that Donald Trump is remarkably stupid.

I figured they couldn’t be right because really stupid people don’t become presidents of the United States. Even George W. Bush was smart enough to hire smart people to run his campaign and then his White House.

Ahem: stupidity has at least two meanings or explanations.

The first is a considerable lack of intelligence, that places one below a considerably majority of other human beings in terms of one's abilities to reason and to solve problems. I more or less agree with Reich that Trump is not stupid in that sense (though indeed also not intelligent: see below).

The second is a considerable lack of both specific and general knowledge (that are required to solve most problems provided one has the intelligence). I think it is very probable that Trump is stupid in that sense: he simply knows very little about politics, economics, or the environment, and most of what he knows seems to be very superficial.

Back to Reich:

Now comes “Fire and Fury,” a book by journalist Michael Wolff, who interviewed more than 200 people who dealt with Trump as a candidate and president, including senior White House staff members.

In it, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster calls Trump a “dope.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus both refer to him as an “idiot.” Rupert Murdoch says Trump is a “f—king idiot.”

Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn describes Trump as “dumb as sh-t,” explaining that “Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

When one of Trump’s campaign aides tried to educate him about the Constitution, Trump couldn’t focus. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” the aide recalled, "before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”

Trump doesn’t think he’s stupid, of course.
Yes indeed - and it seems as if most did use "stupid" (etc.) in the second sense: Trump simply lacks nearly all knowledge that a president of the USA should have (and be interested in as well).

There is this by Reich on the brightness Trump asserts of himself:

Yet Trump wasn’t exactly an academic star. One of his professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Finance purportedly said that he was “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

In fact, it seems to me as if Trump never went to any university, but only to a college, but then I do not want to put too much weight on that distinction, that is, beyond saying that Trump definitely did not study mathematics, physics, chemistry or computing: If he ever did study anything, it had to do with business and finance.

Then again, as far as business and finance are concerned, Reich also points out that while Trump did receive $200 million from his father rather a long time ago, while at present Trump seems to have about $8 billion, he would have had about $12 billion if he had done precisely nothing except get the interest at the end of the year: Therefore, Trump is NOT a genius in business and finance, I'd conclude.

Then there is this:

But hold on. It would be dangerous to underestimate this man. 

Even if Trump doesn’t read, can’t follow a logical argument, and has the attention span of a fruit fly, it still doesn’t follow that he’s stupid.

There’s another form of intelligence, called “emotional intelligence.”

I am sorry, but I am a psychologist (that took six years of required university study in Holland, in the 1980ies) and Reich isn't, and while I would agree to Reich's first statement in the above quote, the rest seems baloney to me:

A person who "doesn't read, can't follow a logical argument and has the attention of a fruit fly", or indeed of Donald Trump as reported, is quite or very stupid. I am sorry, but that is simple psychology. (And while I don't say that Trump is quite or very stupid, he must be if Reich's arguments apply to him.)

And "emotional intelligence" is not another form of intelligence (which has been researched over 110 years now), but is an inconsistent and flaky hotchpotch of ideas that mostly seem to suit people who want to boast some form of intelligence, but lack an excellent intellect themselves. And it certainly was neither well researched nor long researched.

So both Reich's points are mostly baloney for this psychologist.

This is from the ending of Reich's article:

But he’s been a great political conman. He conned 62,979,879 Americans to vote for him in November 2016 by getting them to believe his lies about Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and all the “wonderful,” “beautiful” things he’d do for the people who’d support him.

And he’s still conning most of them.

Political conning is Trump’s genius.

No, not really. I agree that Trump is a conman, but I disagree he is a genius in any sense. And besides, the success of Trump is far less due to Trump than it is due to the stupidity and ignorance of a majority of American voters.

3. Libraries Under Capitalism: The Enclosure of the Literary Commons

This article is by Gus Bagakis on Truth-out and originally on Op-Ed. It starts as follows:
Our public libraries, our literary commons, are gradually being enclosed -- sealed off to the public by a series of acts of our government -- local, state and federal -- as it bows to the dictates and priorities of corporations. The public library is one of the few settings where people can enter for free, access materials for free and stay without being expected to buy anything. The value of public libraries not only exists in the materials they lend and the non-commercial model they embody, but in the commons that they represent: A public area that offers Americans liberated intellectual spaces, the potential for community dialogues and organizing.
Precisely - and I should add immediately that I like the present article a lot, indeed not only because I am a great lover of books myself (on paper, indeed), but simply because it is a well-written and very clear article.

Here is the first bit that I quote:
It seems that we need more money to help libraries to survive, and we need to stop the turning of our libraries from cultural, educational, community institutions to commercial ventures. To get a clearer insight into these problems, we need to look at how libraries were influenced by capitalism.
Yes indeed. Here is some more:
As we look at the rise and decline of public libraries, we will see that the changes are often related to the prime directive of capitalism: profit. If something goes wrong -- that is, if something endangers the possibility of profit -- it will serve as a convenient scapegoat and be reduced or eliminated in the budget of local, state and federal agencies. Public librariespublic education and public lands are three of the current victims of a shift in capitalism, for they have become "unnecessary expenses" which hinder the need for increased profits.
Precisely. And here is more:
For our purpose, capitalism is an economic system based on wage labor (working for a wage), private ownership or control of the means of production (things like factories, machinery, farms and offices), and the production of commodities for profit, where a tiny corporate elite uses its wealth and political power to generate the priorities, finances and actions of Congress for their own benefit. The
variations of capitalism over the years contain one constant: the struggle between the owners and workers for wealth and power. Since corporate capitalists have the money and power, they usually control the society.

I completely agree with this brief but adequate analysis. Here is more:
At the end of the 1970s, training immigrant workers was no longer a concern for capitalist corporations because the labor shortage ended. This was also a time when public library funding began to decline. After 9/11, public fear intensified, as did surveillance by the state.
I think more factors were involved, but this is also adequate. Here is more:
The conservative business interests attacked the regulated capitalism of the New Deal and introduced neoliberalism, a variation of capitalism favoring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services (libraries) and weakening the power of labor. Some followed the Powell Memorandum (1971), a roadmap for the conservative business interests to rise up and defend themselves against the alleged assault on "freedom," led by activists like Ralph Nader, Herbert Marcuse and others who had supposedly taken over the universities, the media and the government.
Precisely: an excellent brief analysis.

In fact, I'd say - and see the next bit - that the old Keynesian capitalism that ruled the Western world from 1946 to 1979 was capitalism-with-a-human-face, whereas the new neoliberal capitalist is
capitalism-without-a-human-face that I also translate these days as neofascism (my own definition: check it if you wish to diagree!)

But neither of these two additions is necessary. Here is the last bit that I quote from this excellent article:
The decline of worker immigration in the '70s and the stress of austerity due to the rise of neoliberalism led to the decline of social services, including the public library system, and the drift towards the business model for some libraries, with a focus on users as customers. They followed the model of corporations, using public relations, information commodification, efficiency, branding and corporate sponsorships to supplement their funding. The local, state and federal tax revenue previously required to maintain public services shifted to the pockets of corporations, the maintenance of the military-industrial-Congressional complex, or was stashed in tax havens.
Precisely. There is considerably more in the original, and this is a strongly recommended article.
4. The Fatal Flaw of Neoliberalism: It’s Bad Economics

This article is by Dani Rodrik on Rigged Game and originally on The Guardian. It starts as follows:

As even its harshest critics concede, neoliberalism is hard to pin down. In broad terms, it denotes a preference for markets over government, economic incentives over cultural norms, and private entrepreneurship over collective action. It has been used to describe a wide range of phenomena – from Augusto Pinochet to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, from the Clinton Democrats and the UK’s New Labour to the economic opening in China and the reform of the welfare state in Sweden.

The term is used as a catchall for anything that smacks of deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation or fiscal austerity.
Yes indeed - and the very vagueness of the meaning of "neoliberal" is a sure sign that the term itself is a propagandistic term, that is, it is not a realist term.

As to the realism: My own first reaction, already quite long ago, when I first met the term in the 1990s, was to translate it as neoconservatism. And while this term is a lot better than "neoliberal" I have since then concluded that the best translation of neoliberalism is neofascism, but indeed as this is understood according to my own definition.

Here is some more on the term:
The use of the term “neoliberal” exploded in the 1990s, when it became closely associated with two developments, neither of which Peters’s article had mentioned. One of these was financial deregulation, which would culminate in the 2008 financial crash and in the still-lingering euro debacle. The second was economic globalisation, which accelerated thanks to free flows of finance and to a new, more ambitious type of trade agreement. Financialisation and globalisation have become the most overt manifestations of neoliberalism in today’s world.
Yes indeed. And since "neoliberalism" is a propaganda term, while its real essence consists of deregulations sold as liberalisations, financialisation and globalisation, I think a less propagandistic term for "neoliberalism" is "neofascism", for politically it comes to this, indeed whatever the economics behind it.

But briefly thereafter one is led to the Blatcherist Guardian which cannot even be copied (I am sorry, but The Guardian is gone forever, I am afraid) and I give up. (I am sorry, but I had not noticed this when I copied it.)

5. Take It From the Insiders: Silicon Valley Is Eating Your Soul

This article is by John Harris on AlterNet and originally on The Guardian.
One source of angst came close to being 2017’s signature subject: how the internet and the tiny handful of companies that dominate it are affecting both individual minds and the present and future of the planet. The old idea of the online world as a burgeoning utopia looks to have peaked around the time of the Arab spring, and is in retreat.
I never believed in an internet utopia, but indeed I know a lot about both computers and politics. Then again, this idea was not sold to the few like me, but to the many with little or no interests in either, and these embraced it for ten to fifteen years at least.

It may be true that the utopian nature of this idea (which means it is impossible to realize) may have peaked during the Arab spring, but I do not know, although I would like to know how many Syrians, Iraqis etc. have been arrested by their secret services because they published on internet. (In fact, I have no idea.)

Here is more on Facebook (which is an absolutely horrible piece of shit in my eyes):
[Facebook] has reached a fascinating point in its evolution; it is as replete with importance and interest as any political party. Facebook is at once massively powerful and also suddenly defensive. Its deeply questionable tax affairs are beinig altered; 1,000 new employees have been hired to monitor its advertising. At the same time, it still seems unable to provide any answers to worries about its effects on the world beyond more and more Facebook.
I will not comment much, but I remark that more than 2,000,000,000 : 1000 = more than 2,000,000 - which makes it utter baloney, I'd say.

What I selected this article for is news like this, from former Facebook associates:
While Zuckerberg and his colleagues do ethical somersaults, there is rising noise from a group of people who made headlines towards the year’s end: the former insiders at tech giants who now loudly worry about what their innovations are doing to us. The former Facebook president Sean Parker warned in November that its platform “literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Yes indeed. And what I also selected this article for is news like this, from former Facebook associates:
At around the same time, the former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya held a public interview at Stanford University in which he did not exactly mince his words. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” he said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth … So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.”
I completely agree with Palihapitiya (but I add that I dislike Facebook so much since 2011 that I visited it at most five times since, and three times of that were a mistake).

And besides,
I also selected this article for its news like this, this time not from former Facebook associates but from a former high-up at Google:
Then there is Tristan Harris, a former high-up at Google who is now hailed as “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience”. Under the banner of a self-styled “movement” called Time Well Spent, he and his allies are urging software developers to tone down the compulsive elements of their inventions, and the millions who find themselves hooked to change their behaviour.
Here is a kind of overall conclusion about - especially - Facebook, Google and Apple:
Two billion people actively use Facebook; at least 3.5 billion are now reckoned to be online. Their shared habits, compulsions and susceptibilities will clearly have a huge influence on the world’s progress, or lack of it. So we ought to listen to Tristan Harris and his campaign. “Religions and governments don’t have that much influence over people’s daily thoughts,” he recently told Wired magazine. “But we have three technology companies” – he meant Facebook, Google and Apple – “who have this system that frankly they don’t even have control over … Right now, 2 billion people’s minds are already jacked in to this automated system, and it’s steering people’s thoughts toward either personalised paid advertising or misinformation or conspiracy theories. And it’s all automated; the owners of the system can’t possibly monitor everything that’s going on, and they can’t control it.”
I think this is mostly correct, and this is also one of the reasons I am quite pessimistic:

There is little one can do when "
2 billion people’s minds are already jacked in to this" utter trash, for the most part also anonymously, it seems, while all of these 2 billion people are very consciously manipulated into "either personalised paid advertising or misinformation or conspiracy theories".

Anyway... this is a strongly recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

[2] One of the - meanwhile many - reasons to dislike Wikipedia is that  "megalomania",  that is a proper English word since 1890, according to my Shorter Oxford Dictionary, and that was part of Wikipedia till a few years ago, has been altogether deleted from  Wikipedia, and has been replaced by the awful psychiatrese malignant or grandiose narcissist.

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